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Dear friends and readers,

Many of you know by now that I have been out of the country
for almost six months, and that during that time I have not written my blog. I
had hoped last January to write a daily post, but my life changed dramatically
when my mother had a stroke while I was visiting her in Ireland. I haven’t been
able to write since January. I am just now getting back to my work.

I left San Francisco in January for what would have been one
of my quite frequent trips back to London. I planned on being away for 4 weeks,
two of which I would spend in Ireland with my mother. My step father, Hugo, is
in the severe stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Mum had been taking care of him at
home alone full-time, until she finally acknowledged her need for some sort of
assistance. Accepting this, mum allowed Hugo to go into respite care for two
weeks. Hugo went into the care center for two weeks in June 2010, during which
time mum and I took a trip together to the south of France. Our mother/daughter
holiday turned into a last farewell for mum to the travelling times she and
Hugo had spent together. We went to see places they had visited often. We went
on walks they had enjoyed many times over the years. Our time together that
June was real, happy, and sad. We cemented our bond as mother and daughter and
women who shared a deep understanding and friendship.

It was early February 2011 when I reached my mother’s home in
Ireland. We had decided to go away for a short break while Hugo was in the
respite center. It took mum all she had not to take him back out and keep him
at home. She missed him terribly. I was her distraction. She bought a new car a
few days after I arrived, and we went to Waterford Castle Hotel for four days. Mum
had been waiting for me to arrive to buy the car. She had done her research and
picked out what she wanted. There were some odd signs I should have noticed,
like her changing her mind on the car she wanted last-minute, and buying
something completely different. I thought it odd that she wanted me to drive it
all the time. Perhaps, I thought, she wanted me to enjoy driving her new car,
and that it was in some way a gift to me to be allowed to do this.

Prior to my trip to Ireland I had been working very
intensively on my book; Kippers on Thursday, Bombs on Friday. I had met with
some very generous people in London who were willing to share their experiences
with me to help with the book. On February 15th I was very excited
about the short trip I was about to take to Northern Ireland, where I would
meet with a historian and some other helpful people about my book. I would only
be away overnight – leaving on the morning of the 15th and returning
late on the night of the 16th. I would then stay another few days with
my mother before returning to London and then back home to my family in San
Francisco. I had arranged for the rental car agency to pick me up at my mother’s
house. The driver said he would meet me at 10:00 am. At 9:40 am my mother gave
the man directions to the house, and at 9:45 am my mother collapsed with a
stroke. I called the ambulance within 60 seconds. This episode was the beginning
of an ongoing, painful journey. I cancelled my flight home, and stayed for
almost 6 months to take care of my mother, taking occasional breaks in Europe
to build my stamina.

As I was once a Speech and Language Therapist, not just
treating stroke patients, but teaching and supervising the clinical training of
under and post-graduate students in the field, my understanding of what had
happened to my mother is significant. I was able to make informed decisions
quickly, and I saved her life.

Things have gone horribly down-hill since the day of my
mother’s stroke. I am back in California. Mum is at home with carers going into
her house 3 times a day, 7 days a week. Her husband is in the Old People’s home
I chose for him and placed him in permanently.

I feel very strongly that this story, the story of my mum who
was fiercely independent, and the story of our relationship tossed around in
the devastation of her stroke needs to be told. I have decided to put my other
project on hold while I work on this. I hope those of you helping with Kippers
and Bombs will bear with me.

I am of a generation and live in a time when the world we
have been raised to believe “is our oyster”, really is our oyster. We start our
lives precious in the safety of a tightly protective shell, and then we take
the opportunities that present themselves to us as precious gifts. Sometimes
the pearls we are stay close to home, but more and more these days, we leave
our families; parents, siblings, aunts and uncles et cetera and journey afar
without thinking of the consequences. It is nothing these days for us to choose
to travel six thousand or twelve thousand miles around the world and make new
lives for ourselves, make our new families far away from our roots and our parents.
When we are young we do not always think of the consequences of old age and
distance from our parents.

I am my mother’s only child. I live six thousand miles away
from her. My mother and I have never had an easy relationship. As you read our
story you will hear of the years of silence between us, the most recent of
which was fourteen years long during which I lost a kidney due to a tumor, and
she married Hugo, as soon as divorce became legal in Ireland. Neither of us
shared in these important happenings in our lives. We live in a day when the “blended
family” is common. I am a part of a blended family. I have a step-sister and
two step-brothers. Our parents left their respective spouses for each other and
inevitably we all experienced the break-ups and new unions differently. Since
my mother’s stroke, and as I became the primary care-giver for my step-dad, I
have become much closer to my step-siblings. It wasn’t an easy journey
negotiating how we would divide up caring for each of the parents during this
time. I am delighted at the presence of my step-siblings in my life now. Still,
I managed the time with my mother post-stroke with very little support in
Ireland. Friends and family in England and Wales did all they could to help me.

I lost my mother the day she had the stroke. That was
difficult to say the least. What added to that stress and grief was the
interference of outsiders. Instead of my mother and I being supported by the
professionals and people around us who had the power and ability to do so, our
relationship was further damaged by them. I have no time for the victim
mentality. This is not the story of a victim. It is a story that will resonate
with many, and hopefully forewarn and forearm other people who might one day
find themselves in a similar situation to mine. Perhaps in writing this story,
a memoir of my mother and I nestled in the context of her stroke, I will be
able to give voice to some people who have lived through similar experiences,
similar pain and joy, and who have not been able to find the words with which
to share their experiences.

After eight months of silence, I thank you for taking the
time to read this rather long letter. I don’t have a title for the book yet. I
invite you to read excerpts from it as I post it on my blog under the heading “Mum’s
Stroke.” I must warn you though, some of the writing is raw and might be hard
to read.

Warmly,

Belinda

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